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Wausau voters get city government referendum next April

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- Wausau’s City Council narrowly chose next April over this November for a referendum about the future of city government.

Some city leaders have questioned if it is time for Wausau to switch from a strong mayoral governing system to having a city administrator instead. Recent problems involving city staff members have put the spotlight on this issue.

Some council members want to let the public vote on the issue during the upcoming November election, when voter turnout is expected to be high for the Governor’s race.

One of them is Keene Winters.  “If I want to go to referendum, I want the most participation. I want the greatest sample. I want to hear the most amount of voices from the public, and that can only happen in the November (election).”  Another is Lisa Rasmussen.  “November of 2014 is set to be a high-turnout election because the Governor’s office is up for election at that point. In April of 2015, the only thing on the ballot is a Supreme Court race.”

Rasmussen adds, "If we go to advisory referendum in November, and we have at least a clear sense of what public will is dictating, that does then give us more time to start the implementation homework, because chances are it’s going to take a number of our committees, and the entire legal team, and maybe some outside help.”

Council Member David Overbeck is not in favor of rushing this decision with a November referendum.  “We need to do this correctly. We need to do it with education, and we need to make sure that everybody has every bit of information that can be out. If it’s of interest to our voters, they will show up in April to make this very big decision, and we’ve got to make it so they understand what decision they are making.”

Alderman Tom Neal believes November is too fast.  “I really do think we’re putting the cart before the horse here, and if we do that just because we see a larger voter turnout in November than we would expect in April, it’s no reason to me to try to rush something through that we don’t even have a handle on yet. And, trying to speed that process up when we have a lot to learn is kind of fool hardy as far as I’m concerned, and I will not support the November election referendum.”

The vote was close, rejecting the November referendum on a 4-5 vote. A 10-1 vote then accepted an April 2014 advisory referendum in a yes-or-no format asking if Wausau should change to a city administrator style of government.

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